Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
The Four Ashramaas:
The Varnaashrama Dharma detailed in the Manu Smriti was thus a panacea and prescription for most of the social ills that plague humanity today, had it been adhered to in its letter and spirit. Having seen about the Varnas, we find that the Ashramaas are again four in number. Ashramam here refers not to hermitages or the abodes of sages, but to various stages in life one passes through. These are respectively
From the day of Upanayanam, the boy is said to be a Brahmachaari. Brahmam is another name for the Vedas and the Brahmachaari is one who adheres strictly to scriptural commandments, spends his time in learning Vedas and other spiritual lore, wasting not a second in unwanted activities and staying away from all sources of material temptations. He was supposed to reside with his Acharya, considering him to be God personified, performing all sorts of service to him and adhering to him like a shadow, seeking and learning all the time and performing Sandhyaavandanam and Samidhaadaanam regularly without laziness.
The next phase of life for the Brahmachaari who has successfully completed his studies to the satisfaction of his Guru and compensated the latter appropriately through Gurudakshina, is to enter into marriage. Marriage is intended to provide the young man with company suitable for the pursuit of Dharma and to keep the thread of procreation unbroken. According to Ramayana, of all the Ashramas, that of the householder is counted as the best, as he is able to support those belonging to the other three Ashramas’
‘Chaturnaam Ashramaanaam hi Garhastthyam shreshttam Ashramam
Ahu: Dharmaggya! Dharmaggyaa: tam katham tyaktum arhasi’
Four Types of Sanyaasis
We shall wind up the discussion of Ashramas, (though there remains much to be said) with mentioning the types of Sanyaasis, which is again predictably Four’
The Four Months: And as you know, Sanyaasis are expected to stay at the same place for four months a year and not to travel during the monsoon season, observing a ritual known as Chaaturmaasyam. This is now observed, instead of four months, for four Pakshams or two months.
The Four Yugas:
Well, to stop the social discourse and come back to the subject of the Fabulous Four, we find that the biggest measure of Time, the Yugam, is classified again into four’
3.Dwaapara Yugam and
‘Kritam Treta Dwaaparam cha Kalischa iti chaturyugam
anena karma yogena bhuvi praanishu vartate’
Just to give you an idea of the time span involved in a Yugam, here is the scale of measurement.(There are differing accounts of this scale and the following is one of them):
1. The time taken for blinking is the basic measure. 18 such measures make one Kaashtta.
2. 30 Kaashttaas make one Kala
3. 30 Kalaas make one Muhoorttham (roughly equal to 48 minutes or 2 Naazhikai)
4. 30 Muhoorthaas consist of a day
5. 15 days make one Paksham
6. 2 Pakshams make a month
7. 2 months constitute a Ritu
8. 3 Ritus make an Ayanam
9. 2 Ayanams make a Year, by human standards
10. 1 human year constitutes a day for the Devas
11. 360 divine days constitute a divine year
12. 4800 divine years (equal to 1728000 human years) are there in the Krita Yugam
13. 3600 divine years (equal to 1266000 human years) constitute the Treta Yugam
14. 2400 divine years (equal to 164000 human years) are there in the Dwaapara Yugam
15. 1200 divine years (equal to 432000 human years) comprise the Kali Yugam.
The four Yugas combined, called a Chatur Yugam, thus consist of 43,20,000 human years.
And one such Chatur Yugam forms a day for the four-headed Brahmaa.
A single day in the life of Brahmaa is thus incredibly and immeasurably long, by our standards.
This single day is again divided into 14 Manvantaras, each Manvantara consisting of 71 Chatur Yugams. Thus, for a single day and night of Brahma’s life to elapse, 2000 Chatur Yugams or 86,40,000000 human years must pass by. Mind boggling, isn’t it’
Brahma’s year too, just like ours, consists of 360 days, the only difference being the length of the day. Thus a year in the life of Brahma consists of 311,04,00,000000 years by our count.
And as Brahma’s life consists of 100 such long years, his total lifespan measures up to 311 04 00 000 00000 years by the human time scale. One life-time of a Brahma is known as a ‘Paraa’ and half of it is ‘Paraardham’.
These are not fictitious calculations, but are enshrined in the Bhagavat Gita, with the Lord telling us that the Brahma’s life consists of a thousand Yugas (by divine standards)’
‘Sahasra yuga paryantam aha: yat Brahmano vidu:
Raatri: yuga sahasraantaam te ahoraatra vido janaa:’
The point that Sri Krishna wishes to make here is that despite appearing interminable, even Brahma’s lifespan is limited. All beings are thus subject to birth and death, some living longer than others. Only when we perform Bhakti or Prapatti, we reach the blessed land of Sri Vaikunttam, where the residents are no longer subject to the inexorable influence of time and are rid of the unending cycle of births and deaths.
You must have heard of the term ‘Yuga Sandhi’. What exactly does it mean’ Towards the end of a particular Yuga, people begin to develop the traits and qualities of the forthcoming Yuga. For instance, while Krita Yugam consists of 1728000 years, in the last 400 years, the influence of the Tretaa Yugam commences gradually. Also, in the first 400 years of Treta Yugam, the influence of the previous Krita Yugam persists, though on the wane. The last 400 years of the Krita Yugam and the first 400 of the Treta Yugam constitute a Yuga Sandhi, a meeting point of the Yugas, so to say, wherein the influences of both the Yugas are felt. Similarly, the last 300 years of Treta Yugam and the first 300 of the Dwaapara Yugam constitute the second Yuga Sandhi and so on.
A Chatur Yugam, or the time spanned by the four Yugas put together, is supposed to be 43.20,000 years. Twelve thousand such Chatur Yugas make one Yugam for the Devas, for whom a year of our life is but a day.
People’s lives were 400 years long during Krita Yugam, but during successive Yugas, the lifespan suffered reduction, becoming 300 years during Treta Yugam, 200 during Dwaapara yugam and 100 during the Kali Yugam. And these 400 years of Krita Yugam were fully productive years, unaffected by disease, ignorance, etc.,(‘pedai, baalakan adu aagum, pini pasi moopu tunbam’)’
‘Arogaa: sarva siddhaartthaa: chaturvarsha sataayusha:
Krite Tretaadishu hi eshaam aayu: hrasati paadasa:’
Four Legs of Dharmam and Adharmam:
We are told that among the four Yugas, Krita Yuga is the best, for people are at their righteous best, adhering fully to the duties ordained on them and to the dictates of Dharmam and Satyam. Dharmam is portrayed as a divine cow or bull, with four legs’
This cow of Dharmam is able to stand balanced on all its four legs during the Krita Yuga.
Adharma too has four legs’
3. Discontent and
The Yugas that follow the Krita Yuga show a progressive degeneration of Dharma, with the cow standing on three legs during Treta Yuga, two in Dwapara Yuga and teetering on just one leg, during the Kali Yuga. We find this deterioration of values over the Yugas reflected fully in the Epics.
Leaving aside these fantastic figures of human, divine and Brahmaa’s years, let us come back to basics. Which would you say are the sources by which knowledge is acquired’ If you put this question to your son or daughter, he or she would come up with the following four’TV, Newspaper, Mobile Phone and friends circle. However, seriously speaking, the sources of knowledge (called ‘Pramaanaas’) are again classified into four, according to the Uddhava Geeta’
1. Shruti or the unblemished and vast body of knowledge untainted by human composition, is the sole source of wisdom, in matters spiritual. The two Epics and 18 Puranas, which elucidate the cryptic dicta of the Shruti, along with Saamaanya and Visesha Saastras, Angaas and Upaangaas of Vedas, together form a totally credible storehouse of wisdom.
2. Pratyaksham or sensory perception’what we are able to see, hear and feel with the aid of our own sensory organs.
3. Anumaanam or inference, where conclusions are drawn based on previous perceptions. For instance, when we see smoke rising on a hill, we infer that there must be a fire, for we have known that fire generates smoke, from having seen fire and smoke together.
4. Itihyam refers to concepts and convictions which have been passed on by elders from generation to generation, forming a trustworthy body of knowledge.
Here is the relative Uddhava Gita slokam’
‘Shruti: Pratyaksham itihyam anumaana: chatushtayam
Pramaaneshu anavastthaanaat vikalpaat sa: viraajate’
The Shruti itself (Aruna Prasnam) classifies Pramaanas into four categories, substituting ‘Smriti’ for Shruti ‘Smriti: Pratyaksham Itihyam, Anumaana: chatushtayam’
Dharma Lakshanam: We often speak airily about Dharmam. However, what are the defining characteristics of Dharma’ How exactly would we identify Dharma? Manusmriti tells us that these sources of Dharma are again four
2. Smritis (compositions of various Maharshis based on the Shruti, clarifying and codifying its provisions),
3. The conduct of great men and finally,
4. What appeals to one’s self’
‘Veda; Smriti: Sadaachaara: svasya cha priyam aatmana:
Etat chaturvidham praahu: saakshaat Dharmasya lakshanam’
However, we have to be careful here while interpreting Dharma as what is dear to one’s heart’the heart referred to here is that of law-abiding persons who have absolute faith in the Shaastras. If people like me are given the choice of following what is dear to their heart, we would probably embark on an orgy of sin, under the pretext of following ‘Dharma’.
A Quartet of Fours
Ashtaavakra Rishi, in his youth, while debating with a famous vidvaan, enumerates the significance of the number four thus’
‘Chatushtayam Braahmanaanaam niketam
chatvaaro yuktaa yagyam imam vahanti
Disa: Chatvaara: chaturascha varnaa:
Chatushpadaa gourapi sasvat uktaa’
It is the four Ashramaas-
which enable wise men to acquire the ultimate knowledge– that of the Paramaatma. Only a person who passes through all these four Ashraamas would be able to comprehend the true nature of Brahman. The Gnaana Yagyam is conducted with the aid of people belonging to all the four castes.
The Lord has four forms
1.The Viraat Purusha or the cosmic form,
3.Antaryaaami or the Inner Dweller and the
4.Tureeya (fourth) Moorthi.
The Pranavam, which is a glorious mirror reflecting the Parabrahmam in all its splendour, is also comprised of four letters’the Akaaram, the Ukaaram, the Makaaram and the half letter (ARDHA MAATRA).
The faculty of Speech stands on four legs’
‘Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani, taani vidu: Braahmanaa ye maneeshina:, guha treeni nihitaa nengayanti, tureeyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti’ says the Shruti, telling us that of the four types of speech, only the last, viz., Vaikharee is articulated by people. The other three remain hidden and only sages who have their mind in control are able to know them.
(To be Continued…)
Srimate Sri Lakshminrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore